IT HAS been a story of claims and counter-claims.
Of “thousands” of construction deaths. Or, as the Qatari authorities insist, less than a handful.
What is absolutely clear is that the desert heat is not far from intolerable, even after the worst of the summer.
It is also unquestioned that the apartment blocks for the 36,000 migrant workers from across the globe who have built the towering monuments to football’s self-regard are spartan.
But while appearances can be deceptive, workers can be hand-picked, stories may not always be quite what they seem, smiles and body language are tell-tale signs of reality.
And although life in the worker compounds of Doha is not, by any means, a bundle of fun, nor is it forced labour.
Zia Ur Rehman, 34, in his ninth year working in Qatar and fourth on the hallmark Lusail Iconic Stadium, admitted: “The initial attraction was the money, of course.
“I get paid 2000Rial, about £400 per month. That is four times what I could earn doing this sort of job back home — if I could get a job like this at all.
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“The money is paid on time, our accommodation and food is free, so I can give at least half of that straight back to my family at home. It has made a huge difference to our lives.”
Zia and his friend and fellow Bengali Moujib Ur Rehman were both charged £2,000 by recruitment agents to get the jobs.
He recalled: “I had to sell the family plot of land, which wasn’t very big, to pay for the money the agent wanted.
“But now I have been able to buy it back and repair and improve the family home.”
Qatari officials maintain they have introduced new rules demanding those advance payments are returned by the construction companies, with some £14million already repaid.
The “Khefala” system of bonded labour was “totally dismantled”, with global support for the changes coming from the international trade union movement and human-rights organisations.
Critics of the Qataris insist the new standards apply only to World Cup projects and that conditions for the majority of migrant workers are far more regressive, with consequences for those who speak out.
But the World Cup is the reason these issues are being raised and it does seem that the agreements there are being followed.
World Cup stadiums
There will be some stunning stadiums involved in the Qatar World Cup. Find out about three of the grounds below.
CAPACITY: 80,000 LOCATION: 14 miles north of Doha centre.
INFO: A staggering 30,000 tons of structural steel — the equivalent of four Eiffel Towers — went into the stadium that hosts the final. England’s potential dressing room spans 60 yards.
The ground, based on the design of traditional lanterns and bowls, has 27,000 air-conditioning blowers.
CAPACITY: 60,000 LOCATION: 25 miles north of capital Doha.
INFO: In the barren land of Al Khor region, it is fitting the venue for the opening game has been built to resemble a gigantic Bedouin tent, with a retractable roof that opens in 20 minutes.
It will come complete with soaring — and working — fire pits outside both the two main stands.
RAS ABU ABOUD
CAPACITY: 40,000 LOCATION: Across the bay from Doha’s famed Corniche waterfront.
INFO: The first demountable stadium, built from steel and shipping containers — which will be used to take it away within three months.
This is the only ground without air con. Stadium boss Mahmoud Rashad said: “What we have done here is a bit of a miracle.”
In addition, outdoor work was banned during the heat of the day throughout the summer months, while all the builders SunSport saw across three sites were wearing specially designed “cool suits”.
The Gulf state knows the treatment of the labour force — there are only 300,000 native Qataris in a population of 2.8million — is an Achilles heel and focus of global concerns.
But there is anger at the claims that 6,500 overseas workers have died on World Cup-related projects.
Instead, say the Qataris, there have been THREE deaths, despite the back-breaking series of six eight-hour shifts per week, with just three weeks off per year, on not just the stadiums but also the roads and infrastructure.
The other figure, they vow, was an eight-year extrapolation of the total number of non-Qataris — including foreign doctors, bankers and other professionals as well as more blue-collar employees — who died in a 12-month period.
Tamim El Abed, head of the Lusail project, insisted: “We knew the issue would be highlighted but we were determined to ensure the stadium workers would be comfortable and treated as the top priority all the time.
“We put in place stringent safety standards that were complex and enforced. And we believe, honestly, that worker standards here are very different to the way they have been portrayed.
“We made sure there were accommodation and hygiene standards for the workers, recreation facilities, health and safety officers on site.
“There is still room for improvement and enforcing the laws is a challenge — but we are determined that workers’ welfare will remain a key focus and leave a lasting legacy.”
Those facilities are basic, no question. Four-storey prefab blocks, 20 rooms on each level, four in each room with just a curtain for privacy. A shower room per floor and a mess hall for food.
At its peak, there were 7,600 migrant workers on the Lusail project.
Now, in the final stages, that number has halved.
On a board in the camp supervisor’s office, the flags of 14 different nations demonstrate the passports of the current workforce, including 916 from India and other sizeable contingents from Nepal, Kenya, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the Philippines and China.
Moujib told me: “We feel the job is safe. If I had been working in Bangladesh, my health would have deteriorated.
“I feel healthier than the people I know back home. I’m aware of one migrant worker who died but that was a natural death — he had a heart attack and died in the hospital.
“It was just something that happened, sadly.”
Zia added: “My kids know I am working to give them more chances in life in Bangladesh.
“But if they cannot do what they want in Bangladesh, I would encourage them to do the same as me and come here and earn their own money.
“As long as things stay the same as they are now, I will be happy to stay as well and keep working.”
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